Idaho Youth Ranch

For decades, horses have played an integral role in the success of Idaho Youth Ranch, a multi-service agency serving at-risk boys, girls and their families.

Kids who act out are often reacting from deep pain or anger they don’t understand and can’t explain. For abused or neglected kids, trusting anyone—especially an adult—is too great a risk. They learn to protect themselves by shutting out people, making it difficult for a clinician to help a child who can’t or won’t talk about their feelings.

That’s where the Ranch’s horses come in. Interacting with a horse—a sympathetic, gentle giant who doesn’t lie, doesn’t judge, sees through pretense, and communicates without words—can be transformative. At Idaho Youth Ranch, time spent with horses has helped hundreds of kids through a special treatment model called Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP).

In EAP, the horse is part of the treatment team, working alongside an equine specialist and a licensed mental health professional, certified in EAP. The youth don’t saddle up and ride, rather these therapy sessions take place on the ground, as the client and his horse partner work through a series of therapeutic activities together.

Consider Koda, a young teen prone to violent outbursts. He credits the Ranch’s equine therapy program with helping him learn to control his anger. With guidance from the Ranch’s professional staff and its intuitive horses, Koda learned to transform his trauma into something positive. “It took a while,” he admits, “but I learned. To be good with horses you have to keep a cool head, work with them patiently, and keep your temper under control.”